All eyes were on weather apps as the intermediate class took to the track for the final session of the day. Patches of blue sky were still extensive but clouds were making a cameo already and were due to take over the show by Saturday morning. With that in mind, Moto2 riders saved some new tyres for one final time attack at the end of FP2 but could not quite leave much of an impression on the timesheets. Luca Marini started his afternoon at the front and ended it there too, with some intruders taking a turn in the spotlight in between.
After Marc Marquez caused many raised eyebrows, frown lines and headshakes with his otherworldly performance in FP1, the world champion allowed a more earthy half a second gap to separate him from the opposition for most of FP2. However, a bit of enthusiasm overflow at turn eight saw Marquez slide out and allow rivals a handful of minutes to catch up. Marquez rejoined the action on his second machine for the final ten minutes but was not really attacking a fast time on the hard rear tyre and this allowed Maverick Viñales a turn in the limelight.
The sun was truly out by the time the lightweight class flooded the track for their second session and a few men were keen early on to improve on their more underwhelming FP1 times. Tony Arbolino was one of them, the Italian setting camp at the top of the timesheets early on and waiting for the final rush of flying laps from prime position. With some moody weather in the forecast for Saturday, the five minute shootout at the end of FP2 seemed even more competitive than usual and the spoils went to Andrea Migno.
On the back of an exciting and mildly controversial Sunday in Misano, Augusto Fernandez started Friday morning in Aragon back at the top of the charts. The Spaniard saw some challengers in the final ten minutes, as new tyres were unveiled from their toasty covers, but Fernandez came through once again to steal the headlines from Luca Marini by almost three tenths of a second.
Homecomings don’t get any sweeter than Marc Marquez’s return to Aragon. There was no room for TV time for anyone else as the world champion casually started his morning one second ahead of the competition and that gap resisted until the final five minutes of FP1, when the opposition started the search for a provisional top 10. Jack Miller got closest, six tenths off the Spaniard, but Marquez responded immediately on a soft rear tyre to inflate that gap and sit two seconds clear of the competition for the final couple of minutes and two tenths shy of the all time lap record.
With barely any time to rest after the excitement of Misano, lightweight class riders opened the show in Aragon under clear blue skies and with welcome grip. Fresh off a memorable first win, Tatsuki Suzuki led the rush for the first headline of the day and finished FP1 two tenths ahead of John McPhee. The WWR duo of Jaume Masia and Andrea Migno were the only other riders to finish the morning session within half a second of the rapid leader.
It was supposed to be a quiet year for rider rumors. Most riders have a contract for 2020, and much of the speculation had been about when negotiations for 2021 would start. The biggest controversy looked like being whether Takaaki Nakagami would get a 2020 Honda RC213V or a 2019 bike.
Then we came back from summer break, and it's all been insane since then. First there were the reports of Jorge Lorenzo talking to Ducati about a possible return for 2020, taking Jack Miller's seat at Pramac Ducati. Then on Sunday night at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, KTM's home race, we learned that Johann Zarco had told KTM that he wanted to leave at the end of 2019, after just one year of his two-year contract.
So far, so shocking. On Tuesday, KTM announced they were replacing Zarco with immediate effect, and giving his bike to Mika Kallio to ride. Zarco was left without a ride for the rest of the season, and facing an uncertain future. More about that in a moment.
Pulling the rug
In the space of a week, we travel from a race track set in the heart of a bustling tourist spot to one sitting in the middle of nowhere. We go from having affordable accommodation withing 15 minutes of the track, to having to drive for 50 minutes or more to find somewhere which costs less for 5 nights than the budget of a mid-pack Moto2 team.
It's worth it though. The Motorland Aragon circuit is set in some spectacular scenery, sat on the side of a hill looking over the arid plains of Aragon's southern interior. To the south and east, the low mountains of the Maestrazgo, a wild and empty place of visceral beauty. There is no better place to combine a hiking or mountain biking holiday with a race weekend. And the roads are pretty good too.
The fact that the circuit is used a lot for testing tells you a lot about the layout of the track. It has a little bit of everything, from the long, fast back straight, to tight changes of direction like the 'Sacacorchos' or Corkscrew at Turns 8 and 9, to long and fast corners like Turns 10 and 11, and Turns 16 and 17. There are places where you brake hard: Turn 1, Turn 12, and Turn 16, the corner at the bottom hill having the added complication of being downhill before turning for a long off-camber corner which then heads back up the hill.
On Monday morning after Misano, Neil Morrison and David Emmett sat down at a cafe in Borgo Panigale to discuss the events of the Misano round of MotoGP. As always, there was a lot to talk about. The big story was of course Fabio Quartararo and Marc Marquez, and the rekindling of the rivalry which has enlivened the 2019 season. So naturally, we had a lot to say on that subject.
There was plenty more to talk about, including the rekindling of a much older rivalry between Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi. There was the fact that Yamahas handled the extremely low grip conditions of Misano better than any of the other manufacturers, contrary to previous races. There was the Ducati riders making do with a miserable finish. And there was controvery on the last lap of the Moto2 race, and how Race Direction handled that.
The news that Andrea Iannone will manage Romano Fenati had the paddock agog at Misano. So what to expect from MotoGP’s latest soap opera?
To slightly misquote William Shakespeare: “all the world championship’s a stage”.
Or to directly quote Jeremy Burgess, the occasionally cantankerous crew chief to Valentino Rossi and Mick Doohan: “I get pissed off that the people making the rules are quite happy to put on a pantomime or soap opera at two o’clock every other Sunday.”